2020 Indian agriculture acts
The Indian agriculture acts of 2020, often referred to as the Farm Bills, are three acts initiated by the the Parliament of India in September 2020. The Lok Sabha approved the bills on 17 September 2020 and the Rajya Sabha on 20 September 2020. The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent on 27 September 2020.
Background[edit source | edit]
In 2017, the central government had released model farming acts. The Standing Committee on Agriculture (2018–19), however, noted that several reforms suggested in the model acts had not been implemented by the states. In particular, the Committee found that the laws that regulated Indian agricultural markets (such as those related to agricultural produce market committees or APMCs) were not being implemented fairly and honestly or serving their purpose. Centralization was thought to be reducing competition and (accordingly) participation, with undue commissions, market fees, and monopoly of associations damaging the agricultural sector.
A committee consisting of seven Chief Ministers was set up in July 2019 to discuss implementation. The committee is yet to submit its report. The centre promulgated three ordinances in the first week of June 2020.
International precedence[edit source | edit]
A number of developing economies made changes to their agriculture policies in the 1980s and 1990s to encourage private sector involvement.
The acts[edit source | edit]
The three acts include:
- The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 
- expands the scope of trade areas of farmers' produce from select areas to "any place of production, collection, aggregation".
- allows electronic trading and e-commerce of scheduled farmers' produce.
- prohibits state governments from levying any market fee, cess, or levy on farmers, traders, and electronic trading platforms for the trade of farmers' produce conducted in an 'outside trade area'.
- Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020
- provides a legal framework for farmers to enter into pre-arranged contracts with buyers including mention of pricing.
- defines a dispute resolution mechanism.
- Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020
- removes foodstuff such as cereals, pulses, potato, onions, edible oilseeds, and oils, from the list of essential commodities, removing stockholding limits on such items except under "extraordinary circumstances"
- requires that imposition of any stock limit on agricultural produce be based on price rise.
Reactions[edit source | edit]
Government and academic responses[edit source | edit]
On 20 September 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the bills as a watershed moment in the history of Indian agriculture and stated the bills will "ensure a complete transformation of the agriculture sector" and empower tens of millions of farmers. In the Prime Minister's Mann ki Baat radio address on 29 November 2020, he said that "all political parties had been making promises to the farmers but now these promises had been fulfilled."
The Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, Gita Gopinath, said the "farm bills and labour bills are very important steps in the right direction. They have the potential to have more labour market flexibility, providing greater social security to workers and more formalisation of the labour market. In the case of agriculture, having a much more integrated market, creating competition, having farmers getting a greater share of the price that finally the retail price that's paid. So that helps with rural incomes". She also stressed that the implementation of it must be right.
Several Union Ministers urged farmers not to have misconceptions about the reforms. On 30 November, the Prime Minister said that the farmers are being "lied" to: "the farmers are being deceived on these historic agriculture reform laws by the same people who have misled them for decades." Modi added that the old system was not being replaced, rather new options were being put forward for the farmers. Rejecting demands for the inclusion of Minimum Support Price (MSP) as a mandatory provision in the Farm Bills, Minister of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar said that, while the government was committed to MSP, it was "not a part of the law" earlier and "is not" today.
On 1 January 2021, 866 academics from several educational institutes signed an open letter, expressing their support for the three farm laws. The open letter states that the three acts "wouldn't do away with the MSP, but rather free the farm trade from all illicit market restrictions, open the market beyond 'mandis' and further assists the small and marginal farmers to sell their produce at market and competitive prices. The new laws also provide full autonomy for farmers to sell their produce". Also, they "strongly believe in the government's assurance to the farmers to protect the farmers' livelihoods". The signatories are academicians from "DU, JNU, Gorakhpur University, Rajasthan University, Gujarat University and many more".
Response from farmers[edit source | edit]
Some of the farmers and others have called the bills "corporate-friendly and anti-farmer." The bills have faced strong protests mainly from Punjab farmers and from opposition parties (including Communist Party of India (Marxist), Indian National Congress, and Bahujan Samaj Party), as well as a member party of the ruling National Democratic Alliance—the Shiromani Akali Dal—alleging that it will hurt the farmers' earnings. The government, however, maintains that they will make it effortless for farmers to sell their produce directly to big buyers. One of the main causes of the opposition is the uncertainty surrounding how the reforms "will play out in reality." Controversy surrounding minimum support prices (MSPs), the effect on middlemen, loss of states' revenue and low bargaining power of the farmers are some of the fears that have led to the opposition to the bills.
Lack of statutory support in the bills for the MSP is a major point of concern, especially for farmers from Punjab and Haryana, where 65% of wheat (2019) is procured at MSP by the Food Corporation of India and state agencies. The deregulation of the sugar industry in 1998, which paved the way for private establishments, did not result in a significant improvement in farmers' productivity or incomes. A state-led attempt in Bihar to deregulate the APMCs in 2006 has not resulted in an increase in farmers' income or improved infrastructure. However, the Shetkari Sanghatana, the apex body of farmers in Maharashtra, wants the market to play its role to decide the prices of Agri commodities; it contends that the MSP has actually weakened farmers, instead of empowering them. The Sanghatana is planning an agitation demanding that the government give freedom to farmers and stop intervening in the Agri commodity market so that farmers will not have to depend on MSP.
The RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) has demanded that the government send the bills to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and questioned the government's hurry to get the bills passed.
150 farmers from four districts in Madhya Pradesh were allegedly defrauded of over Rs 5 crore by two trader brothers from Dewas. Of these, 19 farmers from Harda district have lodged a complaint and the sub-divisional magistrate – the competent officer under the newly promulgated Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 – has started the probe and conciliation process. The farmers said that they had been solicited by the traders door-to-door and promised higher price for produce for sale outside mandi under the new farm laws. Similar cases have been reported resently from Hoshangabad, Seoni, Gwalior, Guna, Balaghat, Barwani and Jabalpur districts. A dispute in Hoshangabad district was resolved after the company agreed to buy paddy from the farmers at agreed upon price after the SDM intervened based on the farmers' complaint.
Protests[edit source | edit]
Since the proposal of these laws, different protests have come underway in different states of India, especially in Punjab and Haryana. These protests are the first large-scale farmer protests since the Narendra Modi government came into power in 2014. On 26 November 2020, farmers from Haryana were stopped from entering Delhi by Haryana police. At the border near Ambala, protesters were struck with water cannons and tear gas shells by the police forces; protestors threw stones and tossed police barricades into the river. A protester told IANS that they "will break all the barricades if [they] were not allowed to move ahead." In response, the police used water cannons. Media have reported that trenches were dug by the police on certain routes into Delhi; the Haryana BJP government dug the National Highway connecting Haryana and Delhi. Sand-filled trucks and bulldozers were also placed on the path of the march to Delhi. Earlier, the house of Haryana's Chief Minister was surrounded by farmers.
References[edit source | edit]
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